Friday, September 23, 2016

How Introverts Make Friends

(OK, more specifically, this should be "How I, as an introvert, make friends," because obviously introverts make friends different ways... disclaimer over.)

I had an interesting conversation with someone a few months ago about friendship and different culture across the U.S. We'd both moved to the West Coast from other states -- me from the Midwest and her from the South -- and we both found the culture here to be very different from the ones where we grew up: she found it less friendly and I found it more so. The more we talked, though, the more I realized I didn't think this difference in perception was a matter of northern vs. southern U.S. reacting differently to California so much as it was a matter of introverted vs. extroverted reactions.

I explained that for me, the socially obligated friendliness in the middle and southern parts of the country always seemed forced and cold (it certainly always was for me), and since nobody here seems to feel obligated to chat with strangers, when they do, it feels much more genuine. She felt that the lack of socially obligated niceties made everyday interactions feel colder to her. This led further into the introvert/extrovert discussion, where I explained that I prefer to go about my business not interacting with strangers I'll never see again, that I'd rather spend my social energy on people with whom I do or may have a connection. She asked, "But how do you know if that connection is there unless you talk to them?" And, after two paragraphs of preamble, that's where I want to go next.

I began thinking through my friendships, the ones that have lasted, the ones where I still want to keep in touch with them and go out of my way to spend time with them -- the people I choose, joyfully, to spend my social energy on. Absolutely none of them were chance encounters. They all arose naturally out of people who I was already around.

There are the New Lifers, who traveled with me 24/7 for up 10 weeks at a time (or 30, in the case of my friend Jessica).

There are the Rinkies, with whom I sat silently in a chatroom with for years, occasionally interjecting comments and playing bot games, before I considered them my friends.

There are my college friends, who did theater with me and studied for finals with me and carpooled to practicums with me.

There are friends I met on various special interest sites, such as penpal sites for preteen girls, sites for young writers, Christian teen chatrooms, sites for playing trivia games. But all of them came out of a common interest, and we were both there looking for a writing buddy or someone to talk to. This is important, because I have to be emotionally and mentally ready to socialize, and if you try to be friendly with me when I'm not prepared, I'm going to come off as weird at best or rude at worst -- not because I'm trying to be, but because I have to shift that entire section of my brain over.

I can not think of a single friendship I've formed that sprang up out of nowhere, where I just happened to meet somebody and we happened to become friends. There was always an initial jumping-off point, a reason in common that we both were where we were, and, inevitably, a slow burn of acquaintanceship before we ever got to the level of friendship.

I make friends slowly, and I can't possibly know after a single chance encounter with someone if I'd like to be friends with them. To me that concept is as implausible as the idea of love at first sight. Some people, I believe, do forge connections that quickly, but I do not, and I cannot. Until I've known someone for a long time, they are still basically a stranger to me. (This became a joke with one of my friends at college, when I brought this up and pointed out that despite doing shows with her and being in several classes with her, I probably wouldn't actually consider her my friend until our third year of knowing each other. She thought this was hilarious and proclaimed us "kind of friends" our first year, "almost friends" our second year, and "finally friends" our third year.)

So to address the title of this blog specifically, how do I make friends? Well, if I'm looking to make friends, I seek out activities where other people might be. I meet up with people for board games, I chat with locals online, I go to church (sort of... sometimes... that'll be a blog for another day). If I go around trying to struck up a friendly conversation with everyone I meet, I'll just use up all my social spoons very quickly and not be any closer to making friends than I was at the beginning of the day. It's just the way I'm wired.

For an introvert like me, this area of the country is immensely freeing. Nobody cares if I talk to them or don't while I'm checking out groceries. The only people who try to strike up conversation with me seem like they for real want to talk to me. There are plenty of activities and meet-ups where, if I want, I can try to meet people who share my interests and could maybe eventually become my friends. I am more socially comfortable here than I have been in any other town I've lived in. It may not be for everyone, but for someone who makes friends slowly and has very little use for obligatory socializing... this is pretty perfect.

Monday, September 19, 2016

How to Make Deviled Egg Salad (When You're Me)

So I recently decided I wanted to make an effort to cook more. I hate cooking and I'm not very good at it (though that's probably due to lack of practice since, ya know, I hate it and don't do it) but Jacob, who used to be the foodmaker of the house, is working much longer hours and that had been turning into me grabbing fast food every day when I came home from work, which was a bad idea for money and for health reasons.

I found an app called Eat This Much that helped me out at least a little bit -- it customizes a menu for me and even helps me order all my groceries via Instacart (my gosh, I love living in a city because I can do things like that). Tonight I attempted my first legitimate cooked meal in forever that wasn't microwaving or quickly oven warming frozen things. I chopped vegetables, folks.


Like, a lot.

So I thought I'd walk you through the arduous process of making tonight's dinner (and lunch for tomorrow... and maybe dinner for tomorrow if I can't make myself cook again): deviled egg salad.

1. Get groceries. Think, "This is cool! It's like I'm an adult now!"

2. Start boiling eggs. Look up "how to boil eggs" just in case you're remembering it wrong. Turns out you're not. Great!

3. Since boiling eggs takes a million years, start cutting up your vegetables.

4. Realize you bought way too many vegetables because you forgot you were halvesing this recipe. Start thinking of all the ways you could use the rest of this bell pepper. Random bell pepper for breakfast? Bell pepper and yogurt? Bell pepper smoothie?

5. Finish chopping all the vegetables and the eggs still have 750,000 years left, so chop up more vegetables because, hey, celery sticks are a good snack. Now you have a bag of celery sticks!

6. Finish chopping up celery. 500,000 years left. Make your sauce... thing. Don't correctly read the instructions about half the time. When you do read them, forget that you're halvesing the recipe. By the time you've added the four liquid ingredients, you should have no earthly idea what proportion they're in.

7. Taste it. It will taste like FIRE. Add more mayo because it tastes the least like fire of anything else in there.

8. Be dubious of the quality and adequate amount of your spoonful of sauce.

9. Sit down and wait 200,000 more years.

10. EGGS WILL BE DONE. Transfer them between eighty bowls because for some reason you can't figure out where they should be.

11. Peel boiled eggs until your 45th birthday.

12. Mix everything together. The sauce will kind of cover everything. Realize you somehow used all the forks in making this one meal.

13. Put a bunch of it in Tupperware for tomorrow's lunch as a leap of faith before you actually taste it.

14. Taste it. Eh. It's OK. Everything would be better without Funky Sauce, but it doesn't taste like death or even that much fire, so it'll be all right for now. Eat it begrudgingly.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cast Album Discoveries: Calvin Berger

I am finishing up quite a few of my first round of cast albums I've been listening to. This time I finished Calvin Berger, an entertaining and creative modern high school interpretation of Cyrano de Bergerac. If you know the story of Cyrano, you pretty much know this story, except this one ends much more happily and the characters are high school seniors.

If it's totally new to you, here's the premise: Calvin and Matt are both in love with the beautiful Rosanna. Calvin is incredibly intelligent but has a comically large nose and is insecure about his appearance. Matt is handsome but nervous, shy, and not the brightest crayon in the box. They decide to work together, with Matt wooing Rosanna publicly while Calvin writes his love notes, crafts his texts, and scripts out his conversations. The truth is ultimately discovered (without everyone dying like in the original version), and love triangles are resolved with the students figuring out how to deal with their flawed personalities.

Overall, I liked this album a lot. Music and lyrics are both by Barry Wyner, who hasn't done any other full-length musicals, though I hope he will because these perfectly capture teenage angst. Man, if I had heard this album as a high schooler, I would have been all over it. My top five songs from the show are as follows.

5. More Than Meets the Eye. Rosanna raves to Calvin about how amazing Matt is in this song and how he seems not that bright sometimes, only to send a text or say a random thought that is so much deeper than he appears to be. (Needless to say, this is a bit weird for Calvin to hear since he's the one responsible for all the great things Matt is saying.)

4. Don'tcha Think? A fun little tune at the beginning of the show where Calvin's best friend Bret helps him realize that he's in love with Rosanna. This song was actually the first song that I ever heard from this show, and it's insanely catchy.

3. We're The Man. This was the first song in the show that I really loved. Calvin and Matt have two of the best songs in the show. Matt is such a likable character who manages to be the target of many of the cast album's jokes without becoming a pathetic character because he's such a cheerful character, and the two boys have great repartee going back and forth in this song.

2. Never Know. I really enjoy unusual counterpart, and that works here wonderfully, as Calvin tries to help Matt memorize a romantic rap to share with Rosanna. The song is about a third Matt practicing, a third Calvin coaching, and a third Calvin singing to himself about how weird it is that this is all working out somehow.

1. How Can I Compete With That. Of all the (many) unrequited love songs in the show, this is the one that hits home the hardest. The whole group sings individually about their insecurities, and it's a quiet little angst-fest that has some funny but honest lyrics expressing their frustration with themselves.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New Year's Resolution: September Check-In


I didn't want to do this. August was a rough month and I don't really want to do any reflecting on it. But it's like halfway through September so I have to do this eventually. Here goes.

Blogging goal: Four posts in August. I accomplished this, and I'm incredibly proud of that. They were almost all in the first half of the month before August became especially difficult, but that just means I'm even prouder of myself for accomplishing things when I could and not procrastinating until I couldn't. 10/10 this month. WHOO. My next goal involves one of my blog projects I've been putting off: my work with the Flickchart blog. I haven't written a full blog there in ages, and I keep on promising I'll do it, and then I don't. All I want to do is write one blog for Flickchart before the month is over. That is a small, simple goal, and I can do it.

Health goal: Start taking depression meds again. Well... nope. But I am being slightly smarter in health in other ways. I'm making an effort to walk more and to eat more vegetables. But while that's all good, it ultimately doesn't matter here because that wasn't my goal. My goal was to get onto depression meds. I don't know why I have such a block here. Maybe my therapist could tell me, except that I never did that part of taking care of my depression either. Sheesh. How are you supposed to manage depression when depression makes it tough to manage anything? I'm frustrated at giving myself a 0/10 again, and I'm THIS close to saying, "Forget this goal, it'll never happen," and moving on to something else because failing again next month will be even more discouraging, but no. NOOOOOOO. That's me yelling at myself that I WILL MAKE THIS WORK, DANG IT. I will take. My. Freaking. Depressing. Meds.

Movie goal: Go see a movie every time I plan to see a movie. This actually has gone pretty well. I think I planned to go five times and actually went three, which is a little more than 50% successful, so I'm going with 6/10. I've done even better than that the last week, but that doesn't count for August stats. I feel pretty confident about my theater movie-going stats, so let's look at home movie watching. My goal is to watch five movies that are part of my movie challenge. I've already seen two halfway through the month, so hopefully I'll be able to tackle three more.

God goal: Daily Bible study and prayer. 0/10. I don't even want to talk about this. Let's try again. As I do every month.

Friends goal: Be present for the RinkUnion. And not like... attend it. I wanted to really be there, mentally and emotionally and not check out because I wanted to make sure I got the most out of IRL friend time since that doesn't happen often for me. I'm pretty happy with this. There were moments where maybe I should have focused more, but overall I stayed connected and had a really lovely time. 9/10. This month I'm feeling pretty good about connecting with people. I'm working on a couple different projects that are putting me back in touch with people in my life in various ways, and that's really cool. So what I want to do this month is pretty specific: I want to attend a local board game meetups at least once. The board game cafe Jacob and I frequent has Monday night meet-and-play events, and my Monday nights are usually free, so I'm going to try to attend at least one of those this month because I want to continue feebly attempting to make new connections and not JUST revive the old ones.

Last month I was at 25/50, which was pretty impressive. This month I made it to... 25/50 again, so at least I'm not sliding backwards. If I can make any progress at all in my health or God goals I'll be happy. I only have half a month left in which to do it, but even that is still significantly better than what I've done so far.

It's been a frustrating month, but seeing that I at least haven't sucked any worse than I did last month makes me feel better. Onward we go.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cast Album Discoveries: The Toxic Avenger

In my first grouping of 10 cast recordings to listen to as part of this project, this was the only one that I just didn't like at all. With music and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, The Toxic Avenger has a really dismal cast recording, with forgettable music and obvious, lowest-common-denominator lyrics. They're clearly trying to do something like the self-aware (and very funny) Evil Dead musical, but it all falls flat here, with incredibly predictable tunes that hinge entirely on having a third-grade sense of humor. (I've just looked up the writers of this musical and it turns out they also collaborated to write Memphis, which I don't know well but which has... won Tonys and stuff for being great. So apparently they do have some talent, it's just not on display here.)

The show is based on the 1984 movie, which I have never seen, and tells the story of a nerdy scientist trying to clean up the toxic waste from his state. He ultimately gets dumped into a vat of said toxic waste and develop superpowers. He falls in love, unseats a government conspiracy, and everything worked out.

As I said, though, this cast album is bad. I was looking forward to it because I often love campy sci fi stories, but these songs were so awful I was able to speed listen through this because after just one or two listens to a song, I could practically sing it back to you because they were so unoriginal there weren't any surprises.

Because of how unlikable this cast album is, I couldn't come up with a top five, but there is one song in the show that isn't as terrible as the rest. The one piece of "that's all right" in a pile of crap is the song "You Tore My Heart Out," whose lyrics are still pretty sloppy but not distractingly bad, and the melody is actually quite pretty. As a whole, however, the cast album is a mess and not worth listening to. At all. And I'm glad I never have to listen to it again.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Cast Album Discoveries: 110 in the Shade

I've been doing a thing where I choose 10 different cast recordings for shows I don't know, add the first song from each to a playlist, and listen to that playlist until I'm ready to swap out some of the songs for the next one in the show. It lets me evaluate each song on its own without everything kind of blending together without dialogue to separate it out.

I just finished getting all the way through my first show for this project (though a second is coming up soon, as I only have two songs left). It was the 1963 musical 110 in the Shade. Most of the musicals I added to this list are very new, but this was a slightly older one I wanted to include. I'll post the Wikipedia plot synopsis here:

Based on Nash's 1954 play The Rainmaker, it focuses on Lizzie Curry, a spinster living on a ranch in the American southwest, and her relationships with local sheriff File, a cautious divorcé who fears being hurt again, and charismatic con man Bill Starbuck, posing as a rainmaker who promises the locals he can bring relief to the drought-stricken area.

The music is by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, best known for The Fantasticks, a musical I like very much. I didn't actually know this was by them until just now, so that was a fun little surprise.

I listened to the original Broadway cast starring Inga Swenson, Robert Horton, and Stephen Douglass. There is a 2007 revival starring Audra McDonald, but that version is not on Spotify, so I listened to the original. Here were my top five favorite songs from the album.

5. A Man and a Woman. There were a lot of songs in this show I was kind of indifferent to, and this is down closer to that spectrum, but I liked it enough that it made it into my top 5. It's a very pretty, sad song about lost love and possible future hope, and is definitely worth a listen for anyone who likes more traditional Broadway ballads.

4. Love, Don't Turn Away. If I'd listened to this show while I was first compiling my Unrequited Love Showtunes CDs, I would've had a great time with it. Of the two songs the show has in this vein, this is the more lighthearted one, a cheerful ditty about all the love she has to share. It's sweet and fun.

3. You're Not Foolin' Me. This song reminds me a lot of The Music Man. It could absolutely have been a song sung between Marian and Harold Hill, and I like it a lot. Both characters call each other out on the lies they're trying to live, and it becomes a great spirited duet between two strong characters.

2. Old Maid. Oh, man. While "Love, Don't Turn Away" is a sweet and fun song about hoping for love, this song is devastating in its hopelessness. The more operatic feel of classic Broadway musicals really suits this song, as it lends an air of theatrical tragedy to it rather than modern teenage angst. The verse about visiting extended family as "poor Aunt Lizzie" is truly heartbreaking.

1. Rain Song. This was the first song in the show that really gripped me, and it stayed one of my favorite. It's the song where Starbuck convinces the town that he can bring them rain within 24 hours if they pay him $100. For another comparison to The Music Man, this is this show's "76 Trombones," starting off with a cool, slinky jazz section and building to a religious revival feel as the whole town starts singing about the expected rain.

Any of you out there familiar with this show? If so, what are your favorite songs?

Friday, August 5, 2016

New Year's Resolution: August Check-In

I didn't even write this last month, so let's look at it over the past couple months and see how I've been doing. It's been an intensely busy and often stressful summer -- I've been challenged in... a lot of ways at work (all good things I needed to push myself to learn, but challenges are... well, challenging) and it hasn't always left me with much motivation to do anything else. So how am I doing on my resolutions so far, now that we're a little past the halfway mark?

Blogging Goal: Publish at least one blog (besides this one).
Well, I didn't publish that one in July, so that's kind of awkward. But I did post a separate one, which was kind of my goal. I put effort into writing an actual blog. That's a big deal. So I'm going to give myself a 10/10, because it was the first non-check-in blog I'd written since March. This month, I have lots of blog ideas rattling around in my head -- one of which will have already been published by the time this posts -- so I'm going to try to take advantage of that and aim for four blog posts this month. Roughly one a week. I have enough mental material to make it happen. It's just a matter of sitting down and pounding them out.

Health Goal: Get into the habit of taking my depression meds.
Well, no. This has been a tough one this month. I got a new phone and haven't yet set my new meds reminder, and I'm in that terrible place where when I'm feeling good I stupidly decide I don't need them and when I'm feeling bad I stupidly decide they won't help anyway and, honestly, I went to the doctor like four months ago and haven't taken them regularly enough to know if they do anything. Big fat 0 for this one. On the plus side of health in general, I am moving more frequently, thanks to Pokemon Go... but that wasn't my health goal for this month. I have to be smarter about that, so I'm going to make taking my depression meds my goal again because that's such a simple thing that I get so dumb about.

Movie Goal: Watch two movies at the theater in June.
Totally done! I've been averaging about a movie a week with MoviePass the last month or two, which is good. 10/10. I'd like to bump that up because every time I go see a movie, I think, "Oh, hey, turns out this is really relaxing for me. I need to do this more often." So I'm going to make a very weirdly specific goal. I want to go see a movie every time I plan to go see a movie. Too frequently I'll make plans and then chicken out at the last minute, and I know deep down that it'd be good for me if I just went for it. So no more chickening out. Not in August.

God Goal: Daily Bible study and prayer.
Wow, big progress in silly goals and no progress in this. 0/10. COME ON, HANNAH. LET'S DO THIS AGAIN.

Friends Goal: Send three faraway friends an encouraging message.
Yeah, I didn't so great on this. I think I might've done this spread out over both months, so let's say 5/10. This weekend I'll be off visiting some of those faraway friends, though, so I'm going to make a weirdly specific goal -- I'm going to be as present as I can for that weekend. It'll be at the end of a long week going into another long week, and I know it'll be tempting to fade away and introvert out. But I hardly ever see these people (one of them is someone I've been friends with for YEARS but will be meeting for the first time in real life!) so I want to make sure I take full advantage of my friend time and it will make me happier if I don't wimp out.

In June, I scored 24.5/50, and this month I'm at 25/50. That is slow but steady progress. I seriously want to fix this awful trend of me consistently scoring a zero in my God goals, though. We'll see if I can boost that up at least to a 1.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Movies This Month: July 2016

A feature I used to do back in the day and, hey, if I'm looking for things to blog about, this is a decent one. Here are all the new-to-me movies I watched in July and even mini-er versions of my mini reviews of them. Star ratings are out of 5.

The Railway Man (2013) - What started as a fairly generic little romance became actually a very moving story about revenge and forgiveness. It just could have been a lot more with less awkward framing. 3 stars.

How to Steal 2 Million (2011) - This is one of those movies that I kind of feel bad rating so low on my Flickchart, because it's actually a decent little crime movie, but nothing about it really stands out to me. 2 stars.

Beasts of No Nation (2015) - Oh, this is brutal. So difficult to watch but so engrossing and well-done. 4.5 stars.

I've Loved You So Long (2008) - Every so often a drama comes along where every scene is just interesting to watch because the characters are so engaging, they're acted so well, and the interactions ring so true. This is one of those movies. 4 stars.

Finding Dory (2016) - It was a fun ride and probably the best a sequel for Finding Nemo was likely to be, but it still wasn't good enough to justify its own existence. 3.5 stars.

Don Juan DeMarco (1994) - This movie was very reminiscent of The Fisher King, one of my favorite movies, but this one isn't nearly as good. The magic the movie is trying to capture just doesn't come through. 1 star.

Monsters (2010) - Impressive little film, but a worthy scriptwriter could have moved it up to being a very good one. 3 stars.

Maggie's Plan (2015) - It's hard to think of a recent movie that left less of an impression on me than this one. 1 star.

Paris, Texas (1984) - This was a really interesting movie and I'm glad I finally buckled down and watched it. My only complaint is that I wasn't quite sold on the ending. 3.5 stars.

The Secret Life of Pets (2016) - This movie was a massive disappointment. It could have been so great and then it sabotaged itself. 1.5 stars.

When I Walk (2013) - I like the meta-narrative here, of someone trying to make what they know will be their last movie before they fully lose their vision, but the idea of that narrative is unfortunately more interesting than the movie itself. I wish the film was better than this, but it's much flatter than the premise promises. 2.5 stars.

She Loves Me (2016) - It's a sweet little romantic comedy but at best it's a good production of a half-baked show. 2.5 stars.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) - There is a LOT going on in this movie, with a lot of characters and subtext to keep track of. It definitely left me feeling like there is a lot more beneath the surface. This is one that's going to take me awhile to process. 3.5 stars.

The Zen of Bennett (2012) - This is an awkward documentary in that it doesn't seem to be putting any effort in to actually giving us a glimpse of its subject's life or personality. I wish they'd focused more heavily on the music and left the rest alone. 2 stars.

What did you watch in July? Have you seen any of these?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Top 100: Rent

The Top 100 is a blog series where I rewatch and rerank the movies that were in my Flickchart top 100 at the beginning of the challenge. I'm watching them in a random order to be as unbiased as possible in terms of reranking.

It's been... a long time since I did one of these blogs. Frankly, that was because part of me was worried to rewatch this movie -- my original #44, Rent. I was a devout Rent-head as a late teen, early 20-something, and I still enjoy so much of the music, but in the back of my mind I kind of had an inkling that this was going to fall out of favor on a rewatch. But then I reminded myself that I thought the same thing about Beauty and the Beast and it ended up actually climbing two spots, so who knows?

Rent was the 2005 movie adaptation of one of Broadway's most-loved musicals. Its creator, Jonathan Larson, died tragically from a brain aneurysm on opening night, so he never got to see how much his show meant to so many people. It latched onto something in the culture and put that on stage with music, and it became a massive hit. The movie version came out nine years after the Broadway version hit and, with the exception of Tracie Thoms as Joanne and Rosario Dawson as Mimi, the entire Broadway cast reprised their roles.

It tells the year-long story (or possibly two years, I am always slightly confused by the chronology) of a group of broke friends in New York in 1989-1990. It's an eclectic group: a 19-year-old exotic dancer, a songwriter starved for great ideas, a philosophical hacker and his drag queen lover, an aspiring filmmaker still getting over a breakup, his flighty activist ex, and the down-to-earth woman she left him for. We also see glimpses of their former comrade who has married into money and now is firmly on "the other side," as far as they're concerned. Half the characters have AIDS, two of them are or were drug abusers, all of them have some great songs.

Before we get into the full review, here's my live-blogging take on it. As always, spoilers ahead!

  • Today I'll be watching Rent... seven months after my last Top 100 rewatch. It's time to get this show on the road again!
  • It's been awhile since I watched the movie... I have no idea if it'll grab hold of me the way it has in the past.
  • Turning off the subtitles. I know all the lyrics already and they're actually distracting me.
  • This movie is very visually dark. I can't even tell what's happening in this opening scene with Collins getting beaten up.
  • Wait, that's their only source of heat in NYC in December, and they just throw it out the window? That seems like a bad idea.
  • "Think twice before you pooh-pooh it." One of the most hilariously awful lyrics in all of musical theaterdom.
  • ...Am I at the stage of my life where I sympathize most with Benny?
  • I forgot they use "One Song Glory" to do Roger's back story. I think that works really well, actually.
  • The subtle actions happening throughout "Light My Candle" are almost impossible to distinguish because it's so visually dark. :-/
  • So far I'm not blown away, but my favorite songs are yet to come. We'll see if they rope me in more.
  • Rosario Dawson's "Out Tonight" is one of the highlights so far, for sure. She really captures the restlessness in the whole show.
  • The sound mixing in "Another Day" is weird.
  • I love the harmonies in "I'll Cover You."
  • That's such a touching moment when Roger realizes Mimi has AIDS too.
  • I forgot about the extremely uncomfortable setting for "Take Me Or Leave Me."
  • Whoa, hold up, Mimi and Benny had a thing "two years ago"? So when she was 17 and he was quite a bit more than 17? Not OK, Benny.
  • The movie figured out what to do with "Without You." The most boring song in the show becomes something very lovely.
  • Oh, man, that shot of Angel and Collins in the hospital bed. Heartbreaking.
  • "And sure enough, next year they'd be mass producing them..." But they've known Angel less than a year. This timeline is off.
  • Still think Jesse L. Martin's "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" is stunning. The rest of the movie no longer holds up, but, man, that scene.
  • "I'd be happy to die for a taste of what Angel had" - way to turn someone's tragic death into an opportunity to whine about your love life.
  • LOL, that dude just gave Roger money on the street but he wasn't even playing anything, just looking mopey with a guitar.
  • I forgot that Collins' happy ending is him just blatantly stealing money.

My initial thought was that this wasn't going to have quite the same impact that it did on me 5-10 years ago when I first fell in love with the show and then the movie came out. My initial thought was right. I still think nearly all of these songs are good on their own, and a few of them are even meaningful within the context of the movie, but I found, to my surprise, I didn't connect with any of these characters anymore. Roger is self-righteous and mopey, Mark is constantly indignant about basic adult things like having to pay rent and get a job, and, well, let's not forget that Maureen is the worst person ever and Joanne deserves so much better.

Collins and Angel are easily the most likable characters. Of all the people who could be indignant about the deal life's handed them, they cope with it the best. There's a reason everyone rallies around Angel's funeral toward the end -- Angel was possibly the only one who showed any compassion for anyone else. Everyone else is too wildly self-obsessed, too busy interpreting the line "No day like today" as "I shouldn't have to do anything I don't want to do." If anyone but Angel (and maybe Collins) had died at the end, would anyone have positive things to say about how they had impacted the world around them? No, probably not.

I'm not surprised that this worldview shifted for me. Even back when I loved Rent, I kind of sensed that I might grow out of it eventually. I will say, while the movie (and, I'm sure, the show) doesn't hold as well together narratively as well it used to, I still love the music. These are some incredible songs. And these are good performers performing them. The songs just primarily work best outside of the context of the show, with the exceptions of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" and "Will I?" and, to a lesser extent, "One Song Glory," all of which actually benefit from the plot in a way most of the others do not.

As a string of interesting songs, huge thumbs up. Everyone should buy the soundtrack. As a whole... not as successful. Certainly not successful enough to stay in my top 100.

So I guess let's kick it out.

vs. Harry and the Hendersons (1987) - An easy first choice. Rent takes this one. "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" is better than anything Harry and the Hendersons has to offer.

vs. The Artist (2011) - The Artist is a bit higher than it really should be. I admired it more than I liked it. It was bold and interesting but failed to really make an impact on me emotionally. While Rent doesn't make quite as big an impact on me as it used it, I still found moments of it very moving. Rent wins.

vs. Garden State (2004) - Another movie that is probably too high. I saw Garden State ages ago and it would probably drop significantly if I rewatched it. Rent is fortunate it ran up against this one. Last time, my third-choice movie was Whiplash, and I don't know if Rent would have won against Whiplash. It does here, though.

vs. Se7en (1995) - All right, here's where it stops. Ten years ago, Rent would win this easily (and clearly did when I began my Flickchart), but now I'd rank it below. The Rent soundtrack still goes above Se7en, but we're not ranking soundtracks versus movies, so Se7en wins and bumps Rent down to #156.

vs. Horrible Bosses (2011) - ...Well, this is kind of awkward. I don't know which to pick. Both have high highs and some pretty draggy lows. I think Rent has fewer draggy lows, thanks to its music, so I guess it goes above Horrible Bosses for now. I'm not sure that's the right choice, but it's where it goes.

vs. The Cabin in the Woods (2012) - One of the most amazingly creative movies I've ever seen. Sorry, Rent, you are going down to #194.

vs. 28 Days Later... (2002) - We're getting quite a lot of horror movies pitted against Rent. I think a lot of 28 Days Later's strength is in its first 20 minutes or so, which are spectacular, but not quite as spectacular as Rent's best moments. Rent wins.

vs. Seven Psychopaths (2012) - I'm one of the few people I know who preferred this to In Bruges. I think it's funnier, more profound, and has better acting. It's also funnier, more profound, and has better acting than Rent, which now drops to #203.

vs. Conspiracy Theory (1997) - This was one of the earliest thrillers I remember watching with my dad when I first started getting seriously into movies, and I still think it's a lot of fun, but I think I have to give the point to Rent here.

vs. Sabrina (1995) - Oh, this is a tough call for me. I love the remake of Sabrina. I haven't seen it in awhile, but I suspect that if I were to rewatch this today, it'd still have the same impact on me, whereas Rent definitely diminished. I think because of that I am going to give Sabrina the point.

This drops Rent from #44 to #205, which feels about right. I can't drop it too far out of the top of my movies. I loved it so much 10 years ago, and even if I don't connect with the characters anymore, there's still the matter of how incredible the music is. Seriously, people. Buy the soundtrack. Buy it now. And then learn all the words to "La Vie Boheme" and feel cool.

It's time to choose my next movie from The Top 100, which I will be writing about definitely no earlier than July 20, but probably significantly later. Did you see how long it took me to do this one? Anyway, next time's Top 100 movie is my original #21, West Side Story (1961). Rewatch it along with me or watch it for the first time and you can chime in with your comments when I finally get around to reviewing it.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

New Year's Resolution: June Check-In

So... I did slightly better than last month. Which is good, because last month was miserable and made me miserable and I was like, "I CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS, YES, I CAN," so I tried and made a tiny difference. So let's check in.

Blogging Goal: Publish at least one blog (besides this one) in May.
Well, obviously I didn't do that, but I started two of them. I just never finished them. But that is better than I've been doing, so I'm going to give myself 5/10. Writing half a post is half as good as writing and publishing a post, so I WILL TAKE those five points and make the same goal again - one blog besides this one for June. Maybe I'll finish one of those blogs I started writing before.

Health Goal: Get into the habit of taking my depression meds.
I did so much better on this this month than last month. I'd say about 7/10 frequency. Now if I do this for another month they might actually be in my system long enough to make a difference, so I'm going to keep working on taking my meds every day and maybe there'll be a difference in next month's check-in.

Movie Goal: See one movie a week with MoviePass.
Such good intentions, such failure. I only saw one, and, in fact, this was my lowest movie-watching month in a long time. 2.5/10. Let me slightly alter this for next month because this is silly. Watch two movies at the theater in June. There.

God Goal: Daily Bible study and prayer.
I made a little progress in all my other goals, but nothing here. 0/10. Gross. I want to push this one to the top of my priority list because I really do think this is a big deal, so I'm going to yet again, make this my goal for June.

Friends Goal: Send an encouraging message to three faraway friends.
I DID THIS ONE. 10/10 for the first time all year. And I liked this, so I'm keeping it as my goal again this month. Send three faraway friends an encouraging message.

After a score of 9/50 for all of April, May is a bit of a boost. I got 24.5/50. That is almost halfway there. That is a HUGE jump up. That is excellent, but I'm going to keep my goals small this upcoming month so as to not rock the both. I especially want to focus on the God goal, since I've been doing so, so badly on that, and the health goal, since I'm afraid I'll get out of sync and stop taking meds again and undo all the progress.

Let's tackle June and hope it's another step forward.

Friday, May 13, 2016

New Year's Resolution: May Check-In

It’s almost halfway through May and I haven’t written this… partly I just really haven’t wanted to because I failed miserably in April. Let’s look at what my goals were last month, shall we?

Blogging Goal: Publish at least three April blogs.
Nope. Didn’t do this. I suppose technically I posted one at least when I posted my April check in, so I guess I’ll give myself a 3/10, but overall I just did not use my spare time wisely. We’re going to try again. I only have a few weeks left in May, but I’d like to publish at least one blog (besides this one) in May.

Health Goal: Get into the habit of taking my depression meds.
Nope. Didn’t do this. Like, at all. 0/10. And when depression started kicking me in the face this month, all I could think was, “Well, I’m not taking my meds and I’m not scheduling therapist visits, so I guess this is what I deserve,” which is not a particularly helpful method of thinking. So we’re going to adjust that and try again. Start taking my depression meds, dang it. 

Movie Goal: Use my MoviePass to see at least one movie a week.
Nope. I saw one. So… 3/10. And I’m actually watching a decent amount of movies otherwise, so I’m going to try this goal again. Persistence! See one movie a week with MoviePass. I already watched one last week, so that’s one down, three to go!

God Goal: Daily Bible study and prayer.
Wanna guess how this one went? Yeah, nothing. 0/10. This is my goal again. I feel like anything else I work on here is just going to be patching holes unless I can get into a regular God habit again, period.

Friends Goal: Have a one-on-one conversation with five faraway friends.
Yeah, I don’t know how to rank this one. On the plus side, I DID have a few conversations with faraway friends… but that was really only because I got to see them in person. I also had a few weeks where I felt so overwhelmed with loneliness for my faraway friends that I cut all contact off with them entirely because it made me too sad to talk to them. So that’s useful. I almost want to take off points for that because I undid anything I was trying to do. So we’ll compromise and give me a 3/10. I like this goal, though, and I feel it’s achievable, but I’m going to simplify it in case my jerkbrain goes crazy at me again this month. Send an encouraging message to three faraway friends. There. I should be able to do that.

April was rough, folks. 9/10. I seem to be doing worse every month, which is... not helpful, and pretty discouraging. But right now I’m going go to go get started on my blogging goal, because I CAN DO THAT RIGHT NOW RIGHT THIS MINUTE, and I can do medication and Bible study tonight, and I can message someone I care about to let them know I love them, and if I do all that I’ll already be doing better than I did last month. Right now my threshold is so low that I can do just about anything and boost it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

New Year's Resolutions: April Check-In

Time to check in and see how my goals are doing, as well as make some new ones for the month.

Blogging goal: Get two blog posts written and published during March. I NAILED this one. I had a sudden burst of things to say and managed not three blog posts this month, but five. Whoo! Clear 10/10. I don't want to overextend myself in April, so I'm going to keep a similar goal: publish at least three April blogs.

Health goal: Take care of lingering physical problems. Specifically, arthritis and depression. This is the goal I'm proudest of attaining, since these were both giant things hanging over my head. 10/10. Now, however, while I went to a doctor about depression, I'm having real trouble taking my medication regularly. So my goal for April is simple: get into the habit of taking my depression meds. I'll be setting alarms. I'd also like to gym this month and stay away from fast food but I've got a chunk of time mid-month when I'm going to be out of town, and those other two goals will be tougher to stick to then, so I'm not making them official goals.

Movie goal: Watch Bridge of Spies. Hahaha... Of course, the simplest goal I have was the one I failed most. 0/10. I think rather than just renew that failed goal, I want to return to a more pressing one. I've hardly used my MoviePass at all this past month. So my goal is to use my MoviePass to see at least one movie a week. Simple, and I can do it.

God goal: Daily Bible study and prayer. Wow, why do I suck at this so much? I did this a couple times, so I suppose 1/10, but wow. I need to step it up. This is my goal again because I think it's important and totally achievable.

Friends goal: Contact the ladies on my reconnection list. Yup. A big fat 0/10. Again. I'm not sure why I'm sucking so much at this either. But we're revamping. Since the official ordered plan for reconnecting is not working for me, I'd just like to have a one on one conversation with five far away friends. That is something I know I can do.

The few things I accomplished this month were BIG accomplishments, but they kind of took over my life and I only scored 11/50 which is, I think, my lowest score yet. Gross. The last two items are really where I've consistently failed the most, so I want to focus a bit more this month on getting those done.

Hoping for a healthier, happier month than March was for me.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Visit to the Doctor

Last week, I did something that I probably should've done a long time ago but didn't feel like I really needed to do until this year: I went to my doctor to talk about depression.

It may have been one of most difficult things I've ever done.

I'm pretty open about my depression here on my blog or on Facebook or in text conversations with friends, but I hadn't considered until this visit how much all that is under my control. I'm able to refine the words, to speak clearly and articulately about my feelings. That is a far cry from the weeping, incoherent mess I was the day I went in.

As soon as the nurse asked me the reason for my visit, I started tearing up. When she told me my blood pressure was a little high, tears starting falling. (We checked it a few minutes later and it had gone back down.) When the doctor came in and asked me gently, "How are you doing?" I started genuinely sobbing and could barely get the words out to explain I was pretty sure I was depressed.

It didn't get better. I knew I needed to be there -- after all, the fact that I was so depressed and anxious about seeing a doctor for depression and anxiety was probably a clue I was doing the right thing -- but as she began asking me how things had been, if there were any emotional triggers I was aware of, how long this had been going on, I could feel myself mentally curling up into a ball, answering the questions as briefly as I could and longing for this awful, uncontrollable vulnerability to just go away so I could go back to feeling like a semi-competent human being.

I knew she'd probably suggest medication, and I knew what I wanted to talk about with her: that I wasn't against depression meds on principle or anything but the thought of having even more meds to keep track of and schedule and worry about side effects for was really overwhelming to me, and I wanted to know if there was any way we could hold off on it until I got fully back on my arthritis medication. Then the moment came, she asked me if I was OK going on medication, and all I could think was I want to be out of here, I want to go home, and saying yes will send me home more quickly, so I said OK and walked out of there with a prescription for Prozac, a referral for a psychiatrist, and a strong sense of self-loathing for being unable to speak up and share my concerns.

(Incidentally, I debated emailing her back and saying, "I couldn't bring myself to talk about it then, but I was wondering..." but ultimately couldn't make myself do that either, at which point I decided maybe that meant I needed the medication pretty badly after all. So we'll be giving that a shot.)

One of the things that makes depression so crappy is how it saps your motivation so the steps you might need to take to feel better seem impossibly difficult. I know that going to see movies by myself is a temporary mood lift that can help refuel me a bit after an especially anxiety-ridden week... but the thought of having to get up and drive to the theater feels somehow worse than the thought of sitting around feeling depressed all day. It's significantly more difficult when your step forward is not "have a beautiful day alone at the movies," but instead "cry in front of people in the hopes they can help you."

That being said... this is a good thing. It is incredibly difficult, and admitting to strangers through tears that I'm depressed makes me feel more genuinely broken than I have in a long time, but I'm doing something about stuff, which has not been my strong suit this year. And so I will take it and claim it as a victory... even if nothing's actually happened yet.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A March Madness Bracket, FSWCCLAB (Part 2)

Yesterday I talked about my picks for the top 64. Today let's rush through the rest of my choices.

Round 2
1. Governors vs. Huskies. If huskies decide to turn on our nation's governors, there's nothing they can really do. The Governors stay in my bracket.
2. Terrapins vs. Rainbow Warriors. The Rainbow Warriors are heavily environmental and would probably refuse to fight the cute little turtles on principle. The turtles have no such principles and could slowly bite the Rainbow Warriors to death.
3. Shockers vs. Bulls. Let's remember that shockers are wheat harvesters. If there's a bull stampede, the wheat cannot save them.
4. Owls vs. Bulldogs. The fact that the owls can fly is going to be a huge advantage to them here. They can swoop down, peck out bulldog eyes, and swoop away.
5. Ducks vs. Hawks. As terrifying as ducks can be, I think the hawks are going to just obliterate them for the same reason the owls are going to get bulldogs. They can fly better.
6. Seahawks vs. Bulldogs. If birds keep fighting these bulldogs, we could end up with a final round of just ALL THE BULLDOGS.
7. Panthers vs. Aggies. Yeah, there's no way agricultural students are making it out alive in a cage match with panthers.
8. Beavers vs. Sooners. Those sooners, rushing in to claim their land... and in the meantime probably destroying the beavers' natural habitat.
9. Tar Heels vs. Friars. North Carolina is a large state. I'm pretty sure they could get rid of the friars just by sheer volume.
10. Mocs vs. Wildcats. Again, whether it's mockingbirds or moccasins, I'm pretty sure they lose to wildcats.
11. Fighting Irish vs. Mountaineers. This is another one where I think the sheer numbers win, as well as the fact that mountaineering seems like more of a defensive maneuver than offensive.
12. Badgers vs. Wildcats. This is a tough one, as I feel like they might be pretty equally matched in viciousness, but wildcats seem spryer. Sorry, badgers.
13. Cavaliers vs. Bulldogs. I suspect these upper-class British Royalists are not going to win a lot of battles against anything that can actually fight.
14. Trojans vs. Gaels. Two entire people groups fighting each other! I guess I'm going to have to say the Trojans would win since almost the only thing I know about them is their fighting prowess.
15. Bulldogs vs. Runnin' Utes. The Utes face off against a different set of bulldogs... and are again chased down.
16. Orange vs. Blue Raiders. The friendly horse eats the orange.

Sweet 16
1. Governors vs. Rainbow Warriors. Well, looks like the governors win here, because it is easier to legislate people away from saving the environment than it is to legislate huskies not to eat you.
2. Shockers vs. Bulldogs. These poor wheat harvesters just keep getting attacked by animals and I just don't feel like they're prepared for that.
3. Ducks vs. Bulldogs. Let's kick the rest of the bulldogs out of the fight because they've completely murdered the ducks.
4. Aggies vs. Beavers. Are agriculture students prepared to fight against the beavers' claws and teeth? I suspect not.
5. Friars vs. Mocs. I suppose the mocs could win this one, but just because I'm having trouble imagining friars taking them down. I don't even know what that would look like.
6. Mountaineers vs. Badgers. The mountaineers attack the badges with their pickaxes and climb away.
7. Cavaliers vs. Gaels. The Gaels must have fought at some point (though, granted, I know very little Gaelic history). The Cavaliers didn't seem to do much from the four seconds I spent in research.
8. Runnin' Utes vs. Orange. The Utes may not be able to outrun a bulldog... but they CAN outrun an orange.

Elite 8
1. Rainbow Warriors vs. Shockers. I think if it came down to it, the shockers would win this one. After losing to so many small animals, I think they'd be full of rage and catch the rainbow warriors off their game.
2. Ducks vs. Aggies. Ducks are small, but they are mean. If they attacked, those poor agricultural students could be in trouble.
3. Friars vs. Badgers. All I can imagine is a friar opening the door of the church, stepping out, and having a badger jump up into his face like an alien face hugger.
4. Cavaliers vs. Orange. As much as I wanted the Cavaliers to stay in the game... they probably managed to eat quite a few oranges in their time, while oranges probably did not eat so many Cavaliers.

Final 4
1. Rainbow Warriors vs. Aggies. I feel like while they're on similar teams, there could be some agricultural students with methods that rub the rainbow warriors the wrong way, and then blood will be spilled.
2. Friars vs. Orange. Finally, one thing the friars can defeat!

...As I sort of thought might be the case, I will be rooting for the Syracuse Orange to win the entire March Madness whatsit. In fact, they might be my favorite basketball team ever. It's difficult to think of something it might hypothetically defeat in the future. A blunt knife?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A March Madness Bracket, From Someone Who Couldn't Care Less About Basketball

I do not follow any sports of any type, but I frequently find myself around people who ask who I support. My method of choosing sports teams for several years has been thus:

1. Find out the teams' mascots.
2. Imagine a scenario in which one team mascot namesake fought the other. Who would win?
3. Root for the underdog.

For example, this year's Super Bowl featured the Broncos and the Panthers. That seems like a pretty even match, but I think a bronco could defeat a panther, since they're larger and seem like they could wreak more havoc. So I was rooting for the Panthers.

This seems at least as sensible to me as any other reason to root for a team.

So let's look at this year's March Madness line-up and figure out who I think should win each one. The teams in bold are the ones I'm rooting for.

Top 64:

Austin Peay Governors vs Kansas Jayhawks: Well, it turns out a Jayhawk is not a bird as I might have assumed. It is, in fact, a native-born Kansan. There are more of those than there are governors, so if they were rioting against each other, the Kansans would win.

Connecticut Huskies vs. Colorado Buffaloes. Oh, goodness, have you seen a buffalo? They're huge. They'd easily destroy a husky.

Maryland Terrapins vs. South Dakota Jackrabbits. This is an adorable round with tiny turtles and shy rabbits fighting each other. Spring is when jackrabbits are most dominant, though, thanks to mating season, so they could probably take down the turtles.

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors vs. California Golden Bears. So... a quick Wikipedia search tells me that the rainbow warrior is based on Christian propaganda masquerading as a Native American legend about people coming together to save the earth environmentally. Yeah, they wouldn't have a chance against bears.

Wichita State Shockers vs. Arizona Wildcats. Shockers, I have just learned, are not people armed with tasers, but rather wheat harvesters. That is significantly less tough than their name sounds, so I'll be rooting for them. Harvest that wheat, Wichita!

Miami Hurricanes vs. Buffalo Bulls. Well, in The Wizard of Oz, a tornado carries a cow away with it. I would assume a hurricane could also carry away a bull.

Temple Owls vs. Iowa Hawkeyes. Wikipedia says the origin of "Hawkeyes" as a team name is probably rooted in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohican. That dude could easily take care of an owl.

UNC Asheville Bulldogs vs. Villanova Wildcats. While both can be vicious, only one has "wild" in their name and is therefore implied to be more vicious.

Holy Cross Crusaders vs. Oregon Ducks. This one made me laugh out loud. Sorry, Ducks, you're definitely getting converted, but I'm going to be rooting for you anyway.

Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Saint Joseph's Hawks. Some research shows me that bearcats eat birds. Maybe not hawks, but they definitely eat birds, so I'll be hoping St. Joseph protects them from becoming prey.

Yale Bulldogs vs. Baylor Bears. Earlier I decided bulldogs couldn't even win against wildcats, there's no way they'd win against bears.

UNC Wilmington Seahawks vs. Duke Blue Devils. The Blue Devils refers to a French World War I infantry battalion, who are probably very capable of killing some seahawks.

Texas Longhorns vs Northern Iowa Panthers. This is similar to the Super Bowl situation this year, and I'm pretty sure the panthers would lose here as well. Longhorns are, as one might assume from their name, very large with large horns.

Green Bay Phoenix vs. Texas A&M Aggies. While agriculture students are important and all, the phoenix is a mythological bird that can regenerate, so it's kind of got the edge here.

VCU Rams vs. Oregon State Beavers. I would not be surprised if it turns out that beavers are much more vicious than I give them credit for, but I'm having trouble imagining them winning if a ram had decided to take them out.

CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners vs. Oklahoma Sooners. I am learning a lot researching these school mascots. A "sooner" is someone who went in and claimed land in Oklahoma before President Grover Cleveland said it was OK and therefore lost their clam to the land. They seemed to be making unwise decisions in their eagerness to take what they wanted, and we all know how that ended for Wile E. Coyote.

FGCU Eagles vs. North Carolina Tar Heels. A tar heel, like a jayhawk, is simple another word for a state's residents (in this case, obviously, North Carolina residents). And I've seen The Birds. Eagles could totally take out a whole state.

USC Trojans vs. Providence Friars. Friars are not renowned for their excellence in fighting.

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Chattanooga Mocs. A hoosier is an Indiana resident, though nobody really knows why. "Moc" is apparently a shortened version of both moccasin and mockingbird, both of which seem like a whole bunch of hoosiers would be able to take care of.

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Stony Brook Seawolves. The first time a wildcat mascot loses! But the top answer for seawolf is a sea lion, and those things are huge and could probably just casually lie on top of a wildcat and smoosh it.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Michigan Wolverines. "The wolverine," Wikipedia says, "has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size." But then again, that might be true of stereotypical fighting Irish as well. But I like the mascot "Fighting Irish" so much, let's keep them in the game by pretending that the Wolverines also includes Wolverine from X-Men, because then they'd probably win.

West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Well, this is a macho group. But I'm pretty sure the lumberjacks are better at using an axe, and that's not going to go well for the mountaineers unless they can scale up a nearby mountain.

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Pittsburgh Panthers. Badgers are pretty mean, but panthers are bigger and can probably subdue them.

Xavier Musketeers vs. Weber State Wildcats. More wildcats! I think they're going to lose the battle here, too, as musketeers can just stand far away and pick them off one by one.

Virginia Cavaliers vs. Hampton Pirates. Uh, well, I suspect upper-class Royalist supporters of King Charles I might not be prepared to fight off pirates, though I would 100% watch that movie.

Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Butler Bulldogs. I am having great difficulty finding out what exactly a "red raider" is, but their mascots look like Zorro and Yosemite Sam, who could probably both beat up bulldogs if they were so inclined.

Purdue Boilermakers vs. UALR Trojans. A boilermaker is someone who makes things from steel. The problem here is that though they might be able to craft great weapons, I'm not sure they'd know how to use them, and saying, "Hold on, Trojans, let me build something out of iron to attack you," is not really going to work.

Iowa State Cyclones vs. Iona Gaels. Sorry, Gaelic people. I'm sure you're tough and all, but cyclones are brutal.

Seton Hall Pirates vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs. More bulldogs! They will lose to pirates, though.

Utah Runnin' Utes vs. Fresno State Bulldogs. Apparently every other basketball team names themselves the bulldogs. I guess the question here is how fast can bulldogs run. Can they run faster than a person from Utah? Turns out a healthy bulldog can run 15 miles an hour, which is on the high end for running sprinters. Sorry, Utes, I think the bulldogs are going to catch you.

Dayton Flyers vs. Syracuse Orange. The flyers are Orville and Wilbur Wright. I'm willing to be at some point they ate an orange, thus defeating this team.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. While a red raider is apparently Yosemite Zorro, a blue raider is... a very friendly-looking horse, according to the mascot photos. The Spartans look WAY tougher here.

All right. That's my take on the top 64, and that's quite enough blogging for today. Tune in tomorrow when many of these teams will have already lost to find out who I've got lined up in the rest of my bracket.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Best and Worst Movies I've Seen This Year (So Far)

One of my resolutions for this year is to watch more movies that I did last year, and so far I've been doing pretty well. I've seen 29 new-to-me movies in January and February (a lot of them new releases, thanks to MoviePass), so I figured I'd do a a quick bimonthly look at the best and worst ones so far, and then I'll come back in May to talk about March/April, and so on.

So here are my top 5 of these past two months:

1. Room (2015). A thrilling and moving story told in a very unique way. By far my favorite of the Best Picture nominees.
2. Ex Machine (2015). More than a little disappointed Oscar Isaac didn't get a nomination for his role in this very creative movie.
3. The Martian (2015). This 2 1/2-hour movie didn't feel that long because it was so engaging the whole time.
4. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984). Jacob had been trying to get me to watch this for FOREVER. I finally did, and I loved it. It's become one of my favorite Miyazakis.
5. Anomalisa (2015). Certainly one of the most original movies of 2015... and one that has, I think, very interesting things to say.

And my least favorite movies of the past two months (starting with least favorite)

1. One Hour to Die (2012). I watched this weird little movie for one of my jobs and it's an ambitious concept -- it's an improvised movie filmed in real time with like a day of rehearsal beforehand -- but it's all a mess and not pleasant to watch at all.
2. Grace of Monaco (2014). Oh my gosh SO BORING.
3. Julia (1977). A really awkwardly-written and acted movie that somehow got a bunch of Oscar noms.
4. Rio Bravo (1959). John Wayne movies just have so much John Wayne in them...
5. The English Patient (1996). Another "why did this get so much Oscar attention?" movie. Gotta side with Elaine Benes on this one. It's so long and dull.

What have been your favorite and least favorite so far this year?

Monday, March 7, 2016

All I'm Going to Say About Politics This Year

(Insert regular "Hi! I'm depressed! Please try to not yell mean things at me!" disclaimer here.)

I have refrained from speaking out politically this year. Not because I don't think politics is important -- I do -- but because we seem to be in a political climate where, maybe even more than in previous years, discussion is vicious and I am really not in a place mentally where I care to invite vicious dialogue toward either myself or my friends in either political party.

I've seen it from both sides, and it makes me a little nauseous. I've seen people repost memes giggling at how fun it is to make liberals angry. I've heard people rant about how anyone voting Republican this election season is bigoted and hateful. I've read the comments laughing at how just plain stupid the other side is. I've never been more thankful in my life for the Facebook "unfollow" option.

Because you all realize that these aren't just talking points, right? These are actual people you're referring to. Some of these are actual people you might have a modicum of respect for. Four years ago, when Obama was reelected, a few people who I thought I was on good terms with posted furious Facebook rants about how stupid and evil anyone who voted for Obama must be. Well, I didn't vote that year for various reasons, but I would've voted for Obama. And I'm pretty sure if I talked to those people and asked them to straight up tell me if they thought I was stupid and evil, they'd immediately say no. But that is who they were talking to. When we mentally separate the talking points and stats from the human beings behind them, it becomes much easier to make broad generalizations

There have been times when I have found myself frustrated by the conservative right in recent years, but then I think of my wonderful conservative family members and friends who are kind and generous and intelligent and whose opinions and integrity I respect, and it becomes impossible for me to make blanket statements like "Republicans are all hateful" or "Republicans are all bigots." I may disagree with some of their points, but that never has to turn into the dark, angry rhetoric that is getting tossed around left and right.

In what way does it possibly help matters to sit at our computers or on our phones and take cruel pot shots at the other side, at our friends and neighbors and co-workers -- not at the points where we disagree, but at them themselves? How does it possibly help us be better people to assume the worst about everyone and make wild generalizations about half the country? How can we possibly think we're taking the moral high ground if we are treating the other side the same way we keep complaining they treat us?

This election season, I've decided relationships are more important to me than campaigning for the right candidate. So I'm not going to post snarky political comments or videos unless they invite actual edifying conversation. I'm not going to engage in political debates if I feel like either one of us is in a place where passion for our cause will make it difficult to discuss things civilly. I'm going to hide reposts from political meme sites because those typically either 1) take shots at me and make me angry/sad, or 2) encourage me to take shots at others and feel smug about myself.

Politics are important. There are positive changes we can make through who we vote into office. But right now, none of those changes can happen because each side is so furious with the other that they refuse to work together. I may not be able to change much about that, but I can change the way I interact with those around me.

More and more, I keep being convicted by what I think might be my new "life verse," or perhaps "life passage," in this instance:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
If I can spout political facts and stats at the drop of a hat and come up with a logical, rational reason why my candidate is the best but view my opposition with hatred, I have nothing.

If I convince others to vote for my preferred candidate but encourage them to look down sneeringly on the other party, I have nothing.

If I see myself trending toward arrogance, contempt, disgust, or hatred toward those who disagree with me, I need to stop and start finding my way back ASAP, because anything I do from that place is going to be gaining nothing because at that point I am becoming the kind of person who is making the world worse.

That may not look the same for everyone. Some of my friends are able to be extremely outspoken and passionate about political issues while still treating their opponents with respect and love. For me, I find, as I did four years ago, that it's best for me personally to take a step back -- at least from the rhetoric and the hype. So that's what I'll be doing, though I am always, always open to serious conversations with folks of similar and opposing beliefs who want to share their views.

I just encourage all of you to think of the best people in your life who hold the opposing view before you repost a meme or make a generalization. If you wouldn't say it to their face, don't say it with a silly picture. Don't be one of the people further opening the gap between right and left. Don't reinforce the idea that the world is in stark black and white, with all people obviously being either good or evil. Don't contribute to the polarization. Let's instead work together to encourage people to listen -- really listen -- to the other side and build bridges to reach each other rather than walls to keep each other out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Year's Resolutions: March Check-In

Well, this month has been up and down. Let's look at how I did overall and how I'll be accomplishing my overall goals in March.

Blogging goal: Write eight posts during furlough week. This one is a big fat fail, 0/10. That was awful. I wrote not a single one. I've started about six blogs but never sit down to finish them. So this month's goal will be simple: get two blog posts written and published in March. Besides this one. And ideally one of them will be that top 100 post I keep putting off.

Health goal: No soda, gym twice a week. Full score on one, no score on the other. I was awesome about drinking no soda, but I didn't go to the gym once. So that's like a 5/10. The reason I didn't go to the gym, though, is what is spurring on this month's health challenge: take care of lingering physical problems. Specifically, I'm going to find an arthritis med solution by the end of the month, even if that solution is, ultimately, going back to my doctor and saying, "I can't afford Enbrel. Anything else we can try?" My other goal is to look seriously into my mental health options with my insurance, because that played a big part in my sucky gym attendance last month.

Movie goal: Write reviews within 24 hours of seeing them. I'm pretty sure I did this every time this month, so WHOO, 10/10! This month I'm debating between giving myself a tiny movie challenge and just going with a promise to get out and see a movie in theaters every week as a self-care thing, but since I've done really well in my movie goals thus far and have struggled with others, I'm keeping it simple. I need to see Bridge of Spies. It's the only Best Picture nominee this year I didn't see, and it looks boring so I keep putting it off, but sheesh, I need to watch it. There's my super accomplishable goal for the month.

God goal: Daily Bible study and prayer. Ugh. I did this like twice. That's the worst. I'm making this my goal again because I'm really unhappy with how badly I did. 0/10 this month, hopefully better next month.

Friends goalRestart lady friend reconnection project. Gosh, I sucked at this too. Solid 0/10. So we're going to help me by taking the pressure off a bit. My goal is to contact the ladies on my list in order, not necessarily on the day I assigned them, but in order. So if I miss someone, I don't just skip on to the next person. Progress stops until I send them a message. That way even if it takes me a little longer, I'll at least reconnect with everyone I want to reconnect such.

This month was a rocky month. I scored 15/50, which is three points lower than I did last month. But I do feel good about having weaned myself off soda (I'll allow myself one a week now but no more and only if we go out to eat) and being on top of my movie reviews. Here's to getting health crap figured out and being in a better place mentally and emotionally at the end of March.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New Year's Resolutions: February Check-In

It's been a month since I set down my resolutions for the year, so let's do a check in and see how I've been doing.

1. Blog! - Well, obviously not doing great here. I wrote three blogs in January, which was more than I wrote in December or November, but that's still not even one a week. I get a week off in the middle of February, though, so we'll see if I can get some blogs schedule. So far I get like a 4/10 for this.

2. Live healthier. Oh, this has NOT been a good start to this. Thanks to a fairly nasty depression-anxiety combo in the second half of the month, I've been eating more junk food and going to the gym less than I did last year. We're going to have to try to jumpstart this again this month. 0/10.

3. Watch more movies. I've actually done REALLY well with this. I watched 17 new-to-me films in January (the best was Room, the worst was Flesh for the Inferno), most thanks to MoviePass. Watching movies alone is a good way for me to de-stress, so I've been getting a lot of use out of it. 10/10.

4. Reprioritize God. Not great. I powered through anxiety and went to church a few times but I don't really count that toward this goal because church attendance has been throughout my life almost wholly unconnected to my actual relationship with God. I've been spending a bit more time with God on my drives to work, but still nowhere near where I want to be. Like a 3/10.

5. Get back in touch with friends. Yeah, I didn't do this at all this month. Maybe like... once. 1/10.

So out of 50 possible Goal Achievement Points, I have... 18. That is pretty cruddy.

I think my resolutions might have been too broad for me to take in all at once. In the interest of doing better this month, let me shrink them down to some February-specific goals that will take me a step toward my bigger goals.


My February-specific goal for blogging is to write eight full blog posts during the week of February 14-20. That will be enough for me to schedule something once per week from now until my next furlough week in April.

For health, my goal in February will be to drink no soda at all (which I had done last year and then horribly backslid this month) and go to the gym at least twice a week. Obviously I'd like to go more than that, but this will give me something to move toward.

For movies, I'm doing pretty well, so I don't think I need to boost anything as far as more watching. But I would like to post reviews for movies within a day of seeing them. Right now I have like three reviews piled up and the longer I put them off the tougher it is to get them finished up.

For reconnecting with God, I'd like to keep it simple: spend a little time in Bible and prayer every day. I'm going to put my Bible and prayer journal on my nightstand (now that I have one) and hopefully that'll remind me to spend some time with God every night before I go to sleep, even if it's only a few minutes.

And for reconnecting with friends, I started a project last year to try to reconnect with several of my awesome lady friends. I'd like to restart that project and actually try to reconnect with them as promised. So that'll be my goal for February.

All right, folks. Here we go.

How are your New Year's resolutions going so far?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Some of the Best of 2015

I was pretty busy in 2015, but I did manage to consume a decent amount of art. So here's a quick rundown of some of my 2015 top 5s!

Top 5 Blogs I Wrote:
1. The Quest for Forgiveness: A Busy Post-Conversion Evening
2. Surprise Blog! And It's a Movie Guessing Game
3. Answering Extroverts' Questions About Introverts
4. Introverts Are Not Fragile
5. The Most Depressing Disney Songs

Top 5 Movies I Saw For the First Time:
1. The Last Five Years (2014)
2. Inside Out (2015)
3. Whiplash (2014)
4. Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005)
5. Captain Blood (1935)

Top 5 Songs I Discovered For the First Time:
1. You'll Be Back from Hamilton the musical
2. (Never Gonna) Steal My Joy by Mandisa
3. Love Me Like You Do by Ellie Goulding
4. Do You Really Need Her by Harry Connick, Jr.
5. WTF (Where They From) by Missy Elliott

Top 5 Books I Read:
1. Fight by Preston Sprinkle
2. Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story by Adam Rex
3. Five Flavors of Dumb by Anthony John
4. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
5. Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Z. Hobson
(As you can probably tell, I've been reading through my collection of Kindle books alphabetically. In 2015 I read from E-H.)

Top 5 New Board Games I Discovered:
1. Coup
2. Legendary (both Marvel and Encounters)
3. Splendor
4. Concept
5. Codenames

How about you? What were your top 5... anything of 2015?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Introverts and Extroverts in the Hundred-Acre Wood

The other day, I watched The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh for the first time in at least a decade, possibly two. It was that surreal experience of rewatching a film you haven't seen since you were a young child and still somehow remembering all the words because you watched it so often then, they stuck in your mind for years.

The first two stories are pleasant, but I found the third one absolutely fascinating in terms of my own life and who I've become over the last few years.

It's the story of Tigger, who bounces everywhere and all around people's lives without regard for them, and Rabbit, who is driven absolutely crazy by Tigger's bouncing and will go to any lengths to stop it. And all I could think of as I watched was, "...That's absolutely me and some of the extroverts I've known."

Most of my extrovert friends are kind, gracious people who are beautifully aware of themselves and don't just steamroll over others. But I have known a few who... did not have that self-awareness and happily just bounced themselves into my life, uprooting my garden and destroying my house and insisting that bouncing is what they do best and if I was upset by it, that was my fault, not theirs.

I saw poor Rabbit constantly harassed by Tigger, who, despite Rabbit clearly being uncomfortable with him, continued to push and push, determined that he could get Rabbit to see his way eventually.

And... I'm not sure how I feel about the ending.

For those of you who don't know the story, Rabbit gets completely fed up with Tigger making a mess with bouncing and attempts to lose him in the woods forever (which, sheesh, is kind of dark) only to get lost himself and need to be rescued. A bit later, Tigger bounces himself up a tree and gets stuck because he's afraid of heights, and he rashly promises that he'll never bounce again if only someone will help him get back down. When he does return to the ground, Rabbit holds him to his promise and Tigger, crestfallen, walks off, and then Pooh and all of his friends lament how sad Tigger is and how they "like the old bouncy Tigger best," and then Rabbit says he guesses he does too (though I am not entirely convinced he meant it -- he was pretty clearly being guilted into saying it), and then everyone is happy and they all bounce together.

That's not really the answer I was looking for as an introvert. Because while I don't think Rabbit should keep Tigger from bouncing forever, the fact is, Tigger is still going to make a mess of Rabbit's life with his bouncing, and that's never really addressed. The actual answer would be for Rabbit to say, "Here, bounce as much as you like, but don't bounce me," and Tigger would say, "Sure thing," and then everyone would really be happy.

As an introvert, the last thing I want to be told is that if I just lighten up and realize that the extrovert really is the fun one, I'll be happy. Because I may be having a perfectly good time by myself, and for an extrovert to come along and disrupt that for their own enjoyment shouldn't be something that's OK.

This definitely didn't hit me the last time I saw this movie -- but the last time I saw it, I didn't know I was an introvert, let alone that it was OK to be one. It does a pretty good job of setting up the story as if both the introvert and the extrovert would see the error of their ways and change to help the other... but in the end, only the introvert actually does. The extrovert doesn't have to change a thing. That doesn't seem quite fair to me, and it's a little disappointing for a story I loved so much as a kid.

Monday, January 4, 2016

My New Year's Resolutions

It's a new year. It's 2016. I apparently didn't make any kind of notable resolutions for 2015, so I can't tell you how I did there.

2015 was a very busy year, thanks to my cross-country move and finally having a real job teaching theatre. It's been an amazing adventure and I'm looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a teacher, a friend, a wife, a Christian, and a person in general.

So here's a few of the things I want to do this year.

1. Blog! I'm going to try a new thing this year. My teaching schedules gives me six furlough weeks spread throughout the year, mostly one every couple of months. My goal will be to use those weeks to try to get my blogs for the next month pulled together and written out. I may have to blog only twice a week, but I'd really like to return to regular blogging and not just like once a month when I have something I desperately need to say.

2. Live healthier. In particular, I'm hoping to get to the gym more often -- easier with this semester's schedule than last semester's -- and cut down on the amount of sugary snacks I eat. These are both doable and I'd like to feel better about it this year than I did in 2015.

3. Watch more movies. I have missed movies this year. 2015 was my lowest movie-watching year since 2008, when I spent the first eight months on the road with NLDC and watching no movies at all. I don't have to reach Movie Challenge Year levels, but I hope to see movies more frequently, especially now that I have MoviePass.

4. Reprioritize God. This second half of the year has been very busy and it's easy for God to get lost in the shuffle. I want to try and make sure God is at the forefront of my mind this year. I want to make sure I spend regular time in Bible study and I want to make sure I get back into the habit of praying for things instead of stressing out about them.

5. Get back in touch with friends. I attempted (very poorly) to do this last year, so I'm going to give it another shot this year and try to reestablish contact with far-away friends. 2015 was an exciting year but a lonely one, but there's no reason for me to be lonely when I have so many amazing friends, even if they are far away from me. So I want to make sure and contact these folks more often and make room for them in my life.

There are a lot of other little things I'm hoping to accomplish this year, but these are some of the biggest ones. This year I'm going to try to do a a six-month check-in at the end of June and see how I'm doing staying on track for this. I'm sure it'll go in fits and starts, but every step I take toward self-improvement is always good!

What are you folks hoping to accomplish this year -- big or small?